Man of Aran

The following are a few scenes from a forgotten cinematic gem called “Man of Aran”. This film is perhaps the grandfather to the now popular documentary “Happy People” from director Werner Herzog. “Man of Aran” was directed by Robert J. Flaherty in 1934. It is a fictional documentary of life the in harsh environment of the Aran Islands off the rugged west coast of Ireland. The film is fictional in the sense that Flaherty used actors, not actual Aran inhabitants. It is documentary because there is no script and the film is based on the lives of actual Aran inhabitants. After the Civil War in Ireland, there was a sort of Celtic Renaissance. Western Ireland, particularly the Arans, became emblematic of all things Irish, from rebellions to Gaelic. So, Flaherty’s film was timely. The cinematography is astounding. Flaherty did a masterful job capturing the terrorizing magnificence of this landscape, at once ineffably beautiful and brutal. Looking at this film, one wonders why these people went there. They literally carved, pounded and fished a life for themselves out of rock. The Aran Islands are limestone slabs that lie in the north Atlantic like the broken teeth fallen from the mouth of some Celtic giant. The men and women of Aran had to literally make their own fields for grazing cattle which they brought over from the mainland. Why did they stay there? At the time of Flaherty’s filming, there was still no electricity or plumbing on the islands. These would not come for another 25 – 30 years. Much later than the rest of Ireland.

Three scenes from “Man of Aran” follow. The music in all three scenes was created by an English band called British Sea Power. They took Flaherty’s film and basically created a modern soundtrack for it. The first scene, Boy Vertiginous, is a delightful look at the life of a typical Aran boy doing his part to help the family by catching fish from high up on the sheer cliffs of the Arans, a precursor to the life of a fisherman that awaited him. One wonders how many Boys Vertiginous fell from these jagged cliffs. The second scene, Come Wander with Me, is a touching look at the life of a husband and wife working hard together to scratch out a meager life in this inhospitable land where they had to break up rocks to mix with seaweed and sand to create grazing for their sheep. The final scene is also the final scene of Flaherty’s film. In this scene we see what seems cause for despair. The Man of Aran has lost his “currah,” or fishing boat to the tempestuous waves of the north Atlantic. Without his currah, how will he fish? How will they survive? If this film had been done in Hollywood, the wife would have been howling, the boy crying miserably in a heap and the man clenching his fists and crying out to the indifferent heavens. There is none of that in Flaherty’s film. Instead, there is only the chiselled, paradoxical look of anger and resignation as Flaherty’s camera gives us stunning shots of the power of nature in the Arans, both in terms of its destructiveness and poetic beauty. As the little family of Aran walks off into the gray, blustering horizon storming all around them, we somehow believe that they are not walking off into oblivion. Somehow they will survive. I love this scene combined with British Sea Power’s music. It resists the self-pity that now often masquerades as sophisticated aloofness. It also avoids the inordinate self-consciousness that often spills over into sentimentality and injured egos. The closing scene is terribly sad. It’s heart-wrenching. Yet, as the family recovers what scraps they can from the wreckage, as they continue looking back at the disaster, we somehow find hope in the midst of the sadness. I don’t know anything about the band British Sea Power, but they interpreted this scene just right in my opinion. The final scene of Flaherty’s film reminds me of a little poem by Stephen Crane.

A man said to the Universe:

“Sir, I exist!”

“However,” replied the Universe,

“The fact has not created in me

A sense of obligation.”

Much has been said of the famed Irish stubbornness. An Irishman will nurse a grudge like a chain-smoker slowly drawing down his last cigarette. I would like to think what the rest of the world calls Irish stubbornness is really the indomitable Irish spirit in need of a struggle. Flaherty captures this healthy pride and determination in the faces of these scaena personae. Irish identity has been carved out of the hard rock of suffering by the often pain-indflicting chisel of oppression and starvation. This was true nowhere more than in the Aran Islands where the man v. nature motif takes on epic proportions. Flaherty’s film deserves attention, not just because of its inspiring content, but also because of its cinematography. As we approach that time of year when everyone is Irish, or wishes they were, take some time to enjoy this great film. You can find it in its entirety on Youtube. To borrow a favored Irish expression, it’s “feckin’ brilliant.”

Boy Vertiginous

Come Wander with Me

Man of Aran

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Lost in Translation…or Just Lost?

I should have known. Any film that begins with an opening shot of an anonymous girl’s bottom thinly veiled in a translucent swath of pink fabric is not to be trusted. It is a sure sign of a lack of confidence on the part of the director, in this case Sofia Coppola (yes, she is a descendant of that Coppola). Sofia also wrote the screenplay, which makes her fully responsible for unjustly picking the pockets of paying patrons who saw this barely moving picture in theaters.

The bottom belongs to Scarlett Johansson who plays Charlotte, a neglected young wife who spends most of her time perched like a gargoyle (pink panties and all) in the window sill of her hotel room in Tokyo while her equally young husband galavants around the Asian city snapping pics of movie celebrities and rock stars. What Charlotte ever saw in this young man is anybody’s guess. She seems interesting, at least superficially, whereas he is a caricature. Charlotte seems to have simply landed where she is, like a lottery ball from the spinner, except she holds less promise than one of those little octogonal balls. It’s more like some literary giant lifted up an undergraduate English program somewhere in New England, shook it upside down, and Charlotte is what fell out.

At the other end of the spectrum, or, to put it more aptly, right next to Charlotte on the same end of the spectrum (that would be the end with the big “Vacancy” sign on it) is Bob, an aging actor whose career is in steep decline. Bob is played by Bill Murray. Bob is in Tokyo shooting a whiskey commercial, simply because his choice was $2 million for the whiskey gig or not even a quarter of that for a part in a play in New York. Additionally, he wants to get away from his wife and kids (go figure). Nothing is happening to Bob that doesn’t happen to us all. Whereas this fact could have been used for the sake of pathos, under Coppola’s direction it renders Bob thoroughly uninteresting. Watching Bob in this movie is like riding around town on the city bus next to…well…anyone. On a few occasions, Bob calls home. The calls end up with Bob groaning that he shouldn’t have bothered. Yet, this viewer’s sympathies are not with Bob, but rather his wife.

Nothing happens in this film. There is the constant suggestion that Bob and Charlotte, who is less than half his age, will “connect.” Fortunately, Coppola spared us that assault on our sensibilities. It would have been far beyond the capacity of willing suspension of disbelief. When Bob actually does do something, it is jarring and totally gratuitous. He beds the lounge singer in the hotel bar who has been there crooning every night since Bob arrived in Tokyo. There is another totally gratuitous scene in a strip bar. Charlotte, of course, must enter this business to find Bob and bring him along like a lost puppy for the night’s escapades. The scene is utterly flat. It has no emotive power whatsoever. Bruce Springsteen accomplished in a few seconds what Coppola could not in several minutes with this scene, and the Boss managed it without full, frontal nudity. (Those who can remember the music video for Bruce’s song One Step Up will understand what I mean.) Granted that music videos are like tableaux in motion, still, in the Springsteen video we have a far more sympathetic respresentation of a lost man trying to recover his way. A just discernable hint of irony imbues the dramatic scene presented, as though this lost man (Bruce) knows the glass in his hand and the fleshpots all about him are empty. There is no such touch of irony in Coppola’s Lost in Translation. Bob seems to have no idea he is lost. Thus, he is not looking for anything. The stark implication he creates is that if Charlotte made certain overtures toward him, he would not have hesitated to enjoy the experience, as merely an experience; a reprieve from boredom. Thankfully, Charlotte makes no such overtures to Bob. And, he is so inert it never occurs to him to test the field. Besides, risking rejection is totally out of character for this character.

Charlotte displays some sense of lostness, which places her on the threshhold of finding something worth knowing. Now and then, when she is wearing something more than her translucent pink underwear, Charlotte wanders about the hotel or its environs in the city. Twice she is touched, and the viewer’s interest piqued, by the spontaneous, colorful appearance of Japanese tradition upon the bland, gray line of her horizon. The first time this happens is in the hotel when she happens to see some Japanese ladies in traditional dress practicing the art of making flowers. They invite her in to join them and it seems (wonder of wonders!) that she might actually learn an interesting, traditional Japanese craft. The second occasion of wonder for Charlotte is when she takes the train to Kyoto for a day trip and she sees a Japanese wedding party in full regalia following the rubrics of a Buddhist marriage rite. Like a golden bar of sunlight slipping through the bleak gray of northern skies, so wonder slips so suddenly into Charlotte’s life. Sadly, Coppola snuffs out this soft burst of golden light before anything can be illumined by it. Charlotte slips silently back into the drabness of her daily life. She will take nothing of either of these experiences home with her. She will not one day teach her own children to weave Japanese flowers while telling them the story of when she and their father were in Tokyo and she happened upon a group of lovely old Japanese women…. She will not rediscover the integral component of her marriage after witnessing the moving ceremony of the young Japanese couple, the beautiful bride painted white. Or, conversely, she will not discover the absence of that integral component within her unstable marriage. The marriage rite presents what we want marriage to be and to represent. The absence of that is a cause for weeping. Yet, Charlotte does not weep after this experience. Beauty-inspired wonder simply passes by her like a ship along the lip of an azure bay. That, in fact, is what seems to constitute the lostness of Bob and Charlotte. They are nihilistically detached from everything they see. Whether the beauty of a traditional marriage rite or the exploited beauty of women in a strip club, everything merely passes before the eyes of Bob and Charlotte like so many scenes. The scenes appear, slip by, and are gone. Here is the scene of Charlotte in Kyoto.

Sadly, this is just a scene. Charlotte is briefly moved by the lovely bride under the umbrella, she moves on and dutifully affixes her prayer to the cherry tree outside the temple, and….nothing. She comes back to this.

This is as animated as Bob gets throughout the entire film. This is also, alas, the most interesting bit of dialogue spoken in the entire movie. At this point, I was almost hoping she would nuzzle up to him like a horse looking for warmth; or, that he would cross the line and get a kick in the groin – anything. I would have preferred being offended at this point in this picture than being utterly bored as I had been since the warning salvo of Johansson’s tush in the opening scene. I don’t know which makes me sadder, the scene or the prating blather of the idiots who commented below it on Youtube.

I don’t need explosions – though I’m not against them – but characters need to say, or do, or risk something. Contributing to the lack of movement in this unmoving moving picture is the dearth not only of interesting dialogue, but any dialogue. In terms of dialogue, the above scene is one of only two where there is any exchange of something approaching thoughts or beliefs.

Perhaps an apt comparison here is with Steve Martin’s delightful 1991 film L.A. Story, directed by Mick Jackson. Here we have another man in the middle ages taking stock of himself and discovering that he has built his life upon sand. Yet, where Coppola fails, Jackson and Martin, who wrote L.A. Story, succeed. A “whacky weatherman” named Harris Telemacher (played by Martin) is “Bored Beyond Belief,” as he has scrawled upon the front window of his home. But, unlike Bob,Harris makes efforts to struggle through the boredom and empty superficiality of Los Angeles suburban drollery. He roller skates in the art museum and has his friend video tape it. He buys a new telephone with voice activation features that don’t work. Harris enters into a senseless tryst with Sandee (Sarah Jessica Parker), a clerk at a clothing store where Harris buys some slacks. Unlike Charlotte, Sandee is a bubble headed bimbo going to school to become a pointer on a game show. When Harris narrates that he was fooling around with Sandee because he was “a big dumb male,” we already know that. We’re glad Harris has finally realized that. Ultimately, Harris falls in love with a British reporter and a woman of substance, Sara McDowell (played by Martin’s then wife Victoria Tennant) come to L.A. to do a story on life in that city of angels. He is smitten with Sara and falls in love with her, really. He is not bored when she is around. He comes alive and tries to show off.

The difference between Martin’s Harris Telemacher and Coppola’s Bob is that in the former there is set up a clear tension between Harris’s obvious intelligence and longing for a meaningful, substantive life and his fear of death and oblivion. This tension is at the root of so much human pathos. There is also the clever tip of the artistic hat to Shakespeare with the graveyard scene. It is this tension that is utterly lacking in Bob, and in the whole of Coppola’s film. Consider the desperate plea of Harris on the beach in this scene of rising action in L.A. Story.

Bob would never do anything like Harris does in this scene. And, neither he nor Charlotte seem capable of a love that would change the weather. Steve Martin gives  a clue as to how such a powerful love might be possible. He refers us to Shakespeare again, that agon of literature, as Harold Bloom would say. Harris and Sara go back to the mysterious electronic billboard (or is that billbard?) which now tells the couple, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Harris, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

This is one of my favorite quotes, not only in Shakespeare, but in all of the Western Canon. It comes from Hamlet, of course, and Martin has simply inserted his character’s name in place of Shakespeare’s Horatio. Harris and Sara are both fully receptive to something vital for authentic life and love: wonder. Bob and Charlotte are both totally devoid of any sense of wonder. Thus, they come off as flat and featureless. One wonders if this is a reflection of their creator, Ms. Coppola.

I wondered how such an offensively boring film could be made. Then I watched the closing credits and found my answer: nepotism. Sofia’s famous father of directorial majesty was a producer of this film. There is no other way such a worthless script would see the light of the screen. In reflecting upon Sofia Coppola’s film, I am reminded of something Mark Twain said about preferring to burn in hell for eternity rather than read another novel by Henry James. Since I actually believe in Hell, which Mark Twain probably did not, I won’t go that far with Coppola’s film. Suffice it to say you should avoid this terrible film like the plague.

25th Hour: It Couldn’t Come too Soon!

I recently watched 25th Hour, Spike Lee’s 2002 effort . The way I came to this film was purely coincidental. While doing a search on great long shots in film, I happened to stumble upon someone’s top 10 list of great movie speeches and monologues. Ed Norton’s (or is that Edward now?) F#@* You scene was selected on this list as the number one great movie speech/monologue. Indeed, it is a quite powerful representation of the man v. himself motif.  The purpose of this essay is not to debate the greatness of individual scenes in various movies, so I will refrain from commenting on the choices of the anonymous blogger who put that list together.

Not knowing the context since I had never heard of the film, I nearly turned it off when Norton’s tirade turned to Jesus Christ. I was riveted (and apalled) at what I was hearing and did not notice the hanging head in front of the mirror where this scene takes place. At the end of the scene, Norton’s character comes back to himself and rejects his ruthless tormentor and all the vile vitriol he’s been spewing for the past five minutes with a memorable declaration:  (NOTE: you won’t want to run this within earshot of the kids).

This is, indeed, a powerful monologue. Lee, as he often does in his work, pieces together a visually compelling scene sequence to go along with the pride-of-Satan monolgue of Monty’s alter ego. It was this scene that moved me to watch the whole film. Sadly, it did not hold up to expectations. The problem I have with this scene is that it comes too early, just thirty-five minutes into the film. It seems to come too early because the film is virtually bereft of any character development after this point with the touching exception of Monty’s father, James Brogin who, with a stirring monologue of his own accompanied by another carefully crafted scene sequence closes the film – almost an hour later. In between these two scene sequences there are numerous forgettable scenes that strike this viewer as character sketches or tableux.

When I discovered the film was directed by Spike Lee, I decided to view it because I like a good deal of Lee’s work. Yet, the film left me demoralized and almost angry, not because of the content but, rather, because of the lack of content. Presented to us here in this strange admixture of characters in 25th Hour are another set of lamentable inductees into the pantheon of men without chests.

Spike Lee directed this film, he did not write it. The screenplay was  written by David Benioff, the same man who wrote the novel upon which the screenplay is based. Lee did his job adequately in terms of creating mood. Varying shades of gray, white and blue wash over the scenes signifying the varying degrees of culpability applied to Montgomery Brogin, the protagonist, by himself, his friends and his father. Is Monty a figure who warrants our sympathy or not? The scenes most illumined with a natural light are those of Monty and his live-in girlfriend Naturelle Riveira. Their luxurious apartment, presumably somewhere in midtown or the upper east side, is imbued with soft sunlight. However, Naturelle is suspect as well. Monty wonders if he can trust her and so we do, too.

In terms of cinematography, the film was also disappointing.The setting is New York City, an endlessly photogenic and “filmable” city. Where is it? I would have liked more long to medium shots of the city and its magnificent bridges. Lee does give us some pleasing long shots alongside the river, Hudson or East I cannot tell, where Monty likes to sit and ponder things. This is where we find Monty at the beginning of the film, just after he has been “touched” by the Feds for selling drugs. He returns to this spot with his two quandom best friends Francis and Jake near the end of the film. In both scenes, the sky is heavily overcast; a steel gray horizon the color of prison bars seems to be clamping down upon Monty as his last hour as a free man comes to a close. It used to be, even as recently as Terentino’s Pulp Fiction, that with visually resonant shots showing the story, there was also interesting characterization in film. (Incidentally, Samuel L. Jackson’s memorable final scene in Pulp Fiction also made the same top ten list.) To stay with Pulp Fiction for another moment, there is more characterization in Jackson’s lines (as Jules) about how he used to read and interpret the verses from Ezekiel than there is in the whole of 25th Hour. Where is that unfolding of Monty Brogin? Has he learned anything or did he just get caught? Does he regret anything, really, or is he just concerned with getting through the next seven years with his anus intact? In fact, the only thing Monty seems particularly concerned about is whether Naturelle turned him in or not. But, even this does not seem to keep him awake at night. When Jules says to Ringo in the closing moments of Pulp Fiction (with a pistol pointed sqarely at the amateur criminal) “I’m tryin’, Ringo, I’m tryin’ real hard to be the Shepherd,” we believe him. We see the nascent stirrings of something, the spark of conscience one hopes, a life based on a better interpretation of Ezekiel. No such revelatory moment comes with Monty’s character, presumably because there is nothing to reveal. This is true of Monty and his friends.

The next authentically human scene is when Monty tells his best friend Francis to “make me look ugly.” This comes just after Monty’s handing over of the dog leash to his other good friend Jake. The gesture is supposed to be pregnant with pathos but it is totally devoid of anything dramatically compelling. This was the dog Monty saved in the opening scene of the film and which joined him on his jaunty perambulations around the city. (Did you ever notice how characters in movies never carry little baggies for poop when walking their dogs?) But, like Monty’s relationship with Naturelle, his relationship with the dog never takes root. And, why won’t Naturelle take the dog? What woman who loves her man would not keep his beloved dog as a memento, something of the man to hold on to? To return to Francis, he refuses Monty’s request to use his face as a punching bag so that the inmates at Otisville won’t take him as their baby. Monty thinks a bruised and swollen face will prevent further abuse in prison. Monty discerns that Francis is not going grant his request, so he provokes him until finally Francis lets loose and pummels Monty more brutally perhaps than even Monty thought he would. Jacob finally comes in and drags Francis off of Monty. Francis then falls apart with a hopeless remorse that seems to cry out against the injustice of those who love someone (a spouse, friend, sibling, etc.) being devastated by the actions of the beloved. Here is the scene.

Again, what is most compelling about this scene is not what the protagonist is experiencing but rather his friend. Francis probably would have really wanted to beat the snot out of Monty once he thought about things and how it was Monty’s foolishness that brought about these morbid circumstances. Along the plodding way of this film, which is far too self-conscious, Monty’s two friends lightly chastise themselves for not doing something, for not stepping in when they saw Monty choosing the path of a derelict. Yet, this leaves another untenable situation in this film. The conflict is that there had been no conflict at an earlier time. I would make the same argument here that T.S. Eliot made against Hamlet’s motive of hating his mother. It’s just not a strong enough motive to sustain the film dramatically. And, given the bizarre and oddly banal conversation that takes place between Francis and Jake over dinner before going to see Monty, during which they highlight what they really don’t like about each other, we are not surprised these two men did not step in and give Monty the reality check he needed. More men without chests. Francis and Jake both hold down respectable jobs, but they are just as empty as Monty.

And what are we to make of Naturelle? Like the poorly defined men in this film, we are left with the ambiguity of an equally ill-defined woman. Like most of the scenes in this film, she is shrouded in an obfuscating half-light that prevents motives and actions from being scene in full relief. Yet, rather than heightening the drama, this only ends up boring the viewer. We want to see characters throw their cards on the table at some point. A better screenwriter would have been able to create a kind of situational irony that left Monty in ignorance while allowing us, the viewers, the either sympathize with or hate Naturelle. Significantly, Naturelle is not the last person with whom Monty spends his last free hours. There is not even any tender moment of separation. There is a brief adieu at the door with Monty’s father waiting. This should be a moment that puts a lump in the men’s throats and sends the ladies reaching for the box of tissues. Instead, it is just one more forgetable moment in a collection of many forgetable moments. Naturelle simply fades out, she is not torn from the man she loves, and it is not a stretch at all to imagine her shacked up with another wealthy man with an even bigger apartment on the upper east side of Manhattan in quite short order. She is barely twenty and she will probably never work a day in her life. And, it is Naturelle that makes the great dream of freedom and redemption posited by Monty’s father vanish like dew in the desert at the dawn of a blazing summer morning.

The most human and, I would say, fully developed character in this film is Monty’s father. James is a retired firefighter and recovering alcoholic. He seems to be wrestling with the circumstances of his son’s demise more than his son is. All the pathos of a father’s helplessness and his futile struggle against that helplessness comes out near the end of the film when he tells Monty that he doesn’t have to go to prison. Instead, they could make a run for it. He just wants his son to give him the word and they’ll go, out west, for a long time. Then there is another good scence sequence where we see this impossible dream playing out and we aren’t sure whose dream it really is, Monty’s or his dad’s. But, for a minute or two, we are lulled into believing that it’s possible. Perhaps they did make a run for it and it will work out. Monty does not unequivocally lay claim to our sympathies, but he does not evoke our total and irrevocable derision either (this is the problem with this character). When James, Monty’s father, is driving him to Otisville where Monty is sentenced to spend the next 7 years of his life, he says to his son, “Gimme the word and I’ll take a left turn.” “A left turn to where?” Monty sensibly asks. “Take the GW Bridge and out west,” James replies. From there, the film moves into a really wonderful scene sequence that we half believe, as James unfolds it through a voiceover, is possible.

The imagery is beautiful. The desert is a place to find God and a new beginning. James is wise to connect the two. Yet, as I mentioned, the dream morphs quickly into fantasy with the appearance of Naturelle. No one, not even James Brogin, can honestly believe for a moment that Naturelle would leave New York City to live in a dusty outpost of the southwest. That stretches the willing suspension of disbelief beyond the viewer’s capacity. Aside from that, however, the scene is stirring and even heartbreaking because it taps into a very basic but often ignored characteristic of man’s existential condition. We grow up. We become adults and assume the responsibilities that are part of that. Yet, our parents are always our parents. Mom is always mom and dad is always dad. In a time of personal tribulation, it is very human to recollect that earlier time in our lives when dad would save us. Lee and Benioff tap into this feeling in the closing scene sequence and deliver a very human experience. We are carried along with James’ dream of escape because we long for a loving father, a father who loves unconditionally and who will always have the answers and the right solution for any problem. As men, we long to be that kind of father. At the same time, we don’t want James to take such a risk on Monty. The son is not worth the risk. But, we are comforted that James is a father who loves his son and wants him to live the life he should have lived initially. The closing line of James’ monologue, “This life came so close to never happening,” is phenomenal. I’m guessing it was Benioff’s and probably in his novel as well. It was almost worth watching the film just to get to this line from Monty’s dad. It’s the best line of the entire film because it can be taken a couple of ways. On the one hand, the life James is dreaming of for his son, the life that is temporarily a latent reality, almost never happened because of a simple turn not taken. On the other hand, as the hopeless vision of a different future for his son begins to fade into futility, James comes back to himself and that line he says seems to be a rumination he makes more to himself. Monty had opportunities, good ones; the same opportunities his friends had. But, he squandered it. Again, Monty did not take a turn he should have away from criminal activity. It is this squandered life that came so close to never happening. That is the dramatic impetus of the film. It’s too bad we have to wait so long to get there.

Monty’s motives are never clear in this film. His conflict is evidently with himself, but that conflict is resolved just over a half an hour into the film. It seems after that, Monty’s great conflict is still with himself, viz a viz Naturelle. The question that preoccupies him is, did Naturelle turn him in? Monty talks to his father about it briefly, but never Naturelle. There is never a moment of truth between them. There is only the ambiguity of uncertainty and equivocal gestures. Monty’s story is not compelling because it is never clear what he has lost. When a character doesn’t appear to really care about anything, we don’t care about the character. Maybe Monty is not compelling like Jules in Pulp Fiction because he is not “the tyranny of evil men,” like Jules clearly is. Monty has lost his possessions, his money, and probably his girlfriend (whose investment in the relationship seemed questionable from beginning to end). But, nothing that defines who he is, or wants to be, is ever threatened. It’s never clear what does define Monty. Nothing ever rides on any choice he makes.

25th Hour is another film about joyless people with no motives for behaving in any particular way because their lives are not governed by anything like principles, or firmly held beliefs. Their lives are merely assumed modes of activity. Even Jules and Vince had certain principles in Pulp Fiction, albeit barbarically contorted principles. In 25th Hour, we are left wondering why these people get out of bed each morning. Maybe Lee should have called his film “Flatliners.” That would have been adequate.